Entartete Kunst - which literally means Degenerate Art - was the name the nazi regime in Germany generically gave to modern art, every kind of art that wasn't figurative, imitative, realist or traditional. In this category they included, mostly, vanguardist paintings and sculptures, of an abstract, surrealist or expressionist nature. The authors of these "freaks" were, according to the nazis, Bolshevik jews - a threat, therefore - and were, consequently, subject to sanctions of various sorts, like being forbidden from displaying or selling their work, from teaching, etc. These artists included Wassily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Paul Klee, to name only a few of the best-known ones. But Gegenerate Art was so much more than this.
The expression Degenerate Art was skilfully spread by Hitler's propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels, in a huge campaign aimed at the discredit of modern art. In 1937, a comission appointed by him was in charge of confiscating every work of art that was considered "subversive" from museums and personal collections - a total of 5 000 works. Most of them were German, but they also included paintings by Matisse, Picasso and even van Gogh. With this massive lot of paintings, they set up an exhibition to ridicule modern art and to try to get its visitors to feel repulsed by these artistic expressions, which, according to the organization, stained the genuine German culture. As you can guess, the name of the exhibit was Entartete Kunst.
On July 19th, 1937, about 650 paintings, sculptures, drawings, etc. were shown to the public in a run-down building in Munich. The purposedly disorganized and biased way the works of art were pilled up in was complemented by "pedagogical" slogans that aimed at "explaining" their meaning to the viewers: Revelation of the racial Jewish soul, Insult to German women,
While this event took place, Goebbels ordered the arrest of even more works of degenerate art, that reached an estimated number of 16 000 works! After the exhibit, several works of art became part of the private collections of some of the members of the Nazi party, who were well aware of their value (Hermann Goering being one of them), while others were sent to Switzerland to be auctioned off. That was the only way they were able to survive to this day.
Curiously enough, this discredit campaign had an ironic outcome. At the same time, the Nazis promoted another big exhibit, destined to show off the official art, approved by the regime. They pompously called it Grosse deutsche Kunstausstellung (Great German Art Exhibit) an lodged it at the amazing Haus der Kunst, in Munich. After it was over, they saw that the latter had been viewed by a little over a quarter of the number of people who attended the Entartete Kunst...
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